A general practitioner (GP or general doctor) can provide medical assistance for mental health concerns. If you’re worried that your teen is experiencing a mental health difficulty, a visit to their GP is a great first step in recognising whether something more serious is going on, and is a great place to learn about treatment options.
When should my teen see their GP?
It’s a good idea to seek medical advice when you, or your teen, notice that something is wrong. It may not be clear whether your teen is experiencing a mental health disorder, but seeing a doctor can help with understanding what they’re going through, and how they can start feeling better.
How can a GP help with a mental health issue?
Seeing a doctor can help your teen recognise that there are practical methods for dealing with poor mental health. It can also help your teen feel as if they can take control over how they approach their mental health and that there is support available for them.
A GP can help with mental health issues by:
- carrying out an assessment to find out more about what’s going on. They’ll ask questions about signs and symptoms, and how long your teen’s been experiencing them
- providing information about where you and your teen can get support
- referring your teen to a psychologist, or other mental health professional
- creating a Mental Health Treatment Plan which allows your teen to receive a Medicare rebate from visiting a psychologist
- prescribing medication to deal with symptoms, if required
Diagnosing mental illness in teenagers can be difficult, particularly when there are a number of things going on. It might take some time before your GP feels able to conclude that what your teen is going through is a diagnosable mental illness, rather than temporary psychological distress. You may also get sent off for further appointments to a psychiatrist or psychologist.
How to get the most out of a visit to the GP
Seeing a doctor for mental health issues can be nerve-wracking. Your teen may be feeling a lot of uncertainty about whether a doctor can help, or may be unsure of how to articulate what they’re going through. Ensure your teen knows why the appointment was made.
A good way to help your teen through this process is to make sure that they’re prepared for their appointment. Sitting down and helping them write out their symptoms and feelings will help them be able to explain them to their doctor.
Being prepared to answer questions from the doctor is also a great way to get the most out of the appointment. The GP might ask you or your teen about some of these things:
- your teen’s medical history
- family history of mental illness
- changes in behaviours, thoughts or feelings
- traumatic life experience
- triggers or things that make your teen feel worse
- thoughts of suicide or deliberate self-harm
- changes in performance at school or significant changes at home
- the length of time your teen has been feeling this way.
Having a list of questions to ask the GP is also a great way to make sure that your teen gets the most out of their visit to the doctor. Here are some examples of questions they can ask:
- do my symptoms suggest I may be experiencing a mental illness?
- what treatments are available?
- what practical things can I do in my everyday life to improve my wellbeing?
- are there medications that can help?
- how will seeing a psychologist or other mental health professional help me?
- are there resources available online to help me understand what I’m going through?
- how can I keep my teen safe if I'm worried about their safety?
Support your teen
Making sure your teen feels supported through their help-seeking journey is really important in making sure their effort doesn’t go to waste. This may include you going with them to the GP, or even allowing them to visit on their own if they prefer to. It might be a bit difficult to understand why your teen may not want you in the room with them, but it’s important to let them feel in control of their experience.
Find out what rebates are offered through Medicare for your teen to see a psychologist under a Mental Health Treatment Plan or other treatment plan.
How can you access a GP if there isn't one close to where you live?
People who live in rural, regional and remote areas may not have access to a close GP. Healthdirect provides over the phone, free 24-hour health advice for non-urgent assistance. To speak to a registered nurse, call 1800 022 222. They keep track of your health information online via eHealth, and also have Telehealth which involves remote consultations via video conference. They also offer Medicare rebates for those who live rural, regional and remotely.
Living in those locations may make it difficult for you to travel to hospitals and to receive specialist services but there are still options available for you such as travel assistance which helps with travel and accommodation costs.
There is also online therapy (eTherapy) available, which gives psychological support, information, therapy and other help online or over the phone.